What Are The Signs Of The Terrible Twos?

I had often heard the term terrible twos during conversations among moms, but I never knew what it meant until I had to face it. My son was 24 months old when I started noticing a very different side of him. He would throw tantrums, get frustrated easily, and defy me too many times. It got me worried sick because he has been a nice kid until now. I thought he was picking up this behavior from somewhere so I took his baby tab, but it did not have any effect on him. I asked a fellow mother, she explained to me the symptoms of terrible twos and how I could get past this developmental phase of my baby. I will share the symptoms in detail today, so that next time you find yourself in a totally helpless situation like mine, you will know what it is and how to deal with it.

Terrible twos are one of the developmental phases that most toddlers experience during the early years. In this phase, children tend to get more frustrated, throw tantrums, and exhibit defiant behavior. Terrible twos are not bound by the age as the name suggests, rather it can begin anywhere from 18 to 30 months of age and usually lasts till 3rd year. According to Robin Jacobson, a clinical assistant professor at pediatrics at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone in New York City, “Your child is figuring out right from wrong, and testing boundaries. This developmental phase is acting as a building block for him, and helping him mold into a person, he will become when he grows up.” It’s more of a learning phase for your little one, and even during all the tantrums and temper, he is looking up to you for support and guidance. This character building phase will help them learn the ways of the world and all things in it. This includes communication with you, other children, and people. Take this developmental phase as part of their growth and development. Allow as much freedom as possible but make sure to reign their behavior for safety. Teaching them self-discipline during this phase can lead to aggression, discomfort, anger, and tantrums in your toddler. Therefore, learning how to discipline your toddler correctly is also very important. By learning what sparks this behavior and why it’s necessary for their growth will help you and your child get through this phase more easily.

How to tell if your baby is entering the terrible twos phase?

When your little one will get around 2, you will start noticing a major shift in their daily behavior. This is because they are learning physical and mental independence. They will test your boundaries as they learn to have their own ideas and opinions.

They will start using words like “mine” and “No” frequently, as a response to their struggle with power and autonomy. Some other significant and somewhat annoying signs that your child will start to show would be…

  • Disobedience
  • Extreme anger
  • Breakdowns
  • Temper outbursts
  • Excessive screaming
  • Hitting and lashing out
  • Mood swings
  • Frequent crying

What is making your toddler so angry?

This is the most asked question by mothers because they fail to understand that this phase is also hard on the toddler as much as on them. Your toddler is still struggling to find the right words and expanding vocabulary to express himself.

They do understand your commands but they still lack the right words to communicate their response and feelings. This inability to voice their response creates an imbalance in his emotions and makes him disruptive and defiant. It`s completely normal and a very major milestone that your toddler needs to get through for growth.

Signs of terrible twos

Signs of terrible twos

Frustration due to misunderstanding

Frustration is one of the major and most visible signs of terrible twos. If you happen to misunderstand your child or his wish or respond to it incorrectly, then your child is likely to get frustrated.

At this stage, they want to be understood even though they are unable to explain themselves properly. I know we are not mind readers but the best we can do at this phase is to try to spot triggers, and signs of what your toddler is referencing. In such situations, you need to stay calm first and ask them to repeat, but in case, you are still unable to figure out then use the trial and error method till you succeed.

Some parents mistake the terrible twos and the defiant behavior of their child, but it`s mostly just your failure to understand them.

Your toddler is filled with emotions and can easily be swayed from extremely upset to pleasantly happy. All they need is for you to understand that they wanted a red train instead of a yellow one and as soon as you get that right, they will forget what made them upset in the first place.

Hitting and biting

As your toddler starts feeling emotions, he also needs to find a way to vent them. Adults have the ability to speak their mind and explain their emotions, but your toddler can`t which is why the only way he can get his frustration out is, through lashing out and hitting.

If your toddler starts to hit you or bite you out of the blue then it probably means that he is going through terrible twos developmental stage. This does not mean that you should not teach them that hitting is inappropriate. Tell them to explain their emotions or trouble, in words until they stop this behavior. Till then be patient and ignore and consider giving a time out instead.


If you see your child getting all wound up, screaming, crying, lashing out, and throwing themselves on the floor, then this is what a temper tantrum looks like.

In terrible twos, you will witness your baby unable to control his emotions, and ready to burst out at any moment. In a moment like these, you have to remember that this is not permanent and will go away with time. Guide and support your toddler just like you supported and loved him during his other developmental milestones.

Your child is learning appropriate behavior for future interactions. Apart from the learning process, it is a sign of healthy growth as well. This signifies that your precious is achieving all the healthy milestones for his age and is developmentally on track.

Just like other signs ignore and stop giving it attention, for this will go away soon. This plethora of emotions will need some time to cool down on its own, meanwhile, teach your child that this behavior is not suitable to vent their frustration. Remember that they are still your little baby who needs more attention and care for now.

Saying No

Another word that you will get to hear the most at this time is “NO”. Your toddler who used to agree to everything you would say is now learning to say no and is going to use it more than often.

With some learning, they will understand the correct use of words, what they mean, and how to use them.

In the meanwhile, make sure that you use appropriate words because they are going to use the same words and tone you do in the house. They are also noticing your actions so make sure that you set the best example.

Be mindful of how much you are using the word no with them, because if that’s what you are using most of the time then they are likely to respond to you in the same manner.

Saying “mine”

Example of terrible twos - saying "mine" alot

As your toddler discovers his character he is also going to become more territorial. This can be usually seen when they are around siblings or children of the same age.

Children are not used to sharing their personal items like toys and clothes and will hesitate or get violent if made to do so.

The trick here is to share your own things and tell them to share theirs as well.

Take away

Your toddler is not done with his milestones yet and this is going to be a tough one so brace yourselves. Your toddler is learning to communicate and respond to his emotions and needs your support and guidance all the more.

Never respond to this phase harshly instead be patient and tell them that their behavior is inappropriate. Try to understand their emotions and needs and teach them to communicate their emotions through words effectively.

Let me know your experiences with the terrible twos in the comments below!

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Hajira is a certified editor, an experienced and thoughtful writer, and a mother of two. Her deliberate passion for writing convinced her to become a writer along with her mom duties. Driven by her passion for writing, she takes pride in providing the best possible. She aims to incite and provoke enthusiasm in her readers.

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